Rubbish and litter illegally dumped in a forest

Global forum to clean up the environment kicks off

Up to 700 scientists, engineers, regulators and other environmental professionals from more than 20 countries have touched down in Melbourne for this year’s biennial CleanUp global forum.

Representatives from universities, government and industry will discuss all aspects of contaminated site assessment, management and remediation.

Delegates will discuss some of the most pressing environmental problems facing the world today, including chemical weapons, climate change, asbestos, and per-and poly- fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS, found in some firefighting foams, have gained recent attention for contaminating areas in and around fire-training facilities worldwide. The Victorian Environment Protection Authority is leading investigations into environmental contamination of PFAS at a number of sites statewide and around Australia.

In one of the discussions, technologies that have been pioneered for medicine have been adapted for environmental clean up.

Visiting US researcher Dora Taggart, President of Microbial Insights, has conducted research into microorganisms, which looks at the bacterium behind disease of fermentation.

She said that probing changes in the nuclei of microbes can identify the best microbes for the task and how well they are performing.

“In laboratories, we use molecular biological tools – a range of laboratory analyses – to evaluate biodegradation potential of microbes and microbial activity at contaminated sites,” said Ms Dora Taggart, President of Microbial Insights.

‘The microbes – bacteria and fungi – are typically already present in the soil, or we can add them. But you need the right conditions in order to ensure that the microbes survive, you need to ensure that the chemistry is right.

“Often, adding electron acceptors such as oxygen, or electron donors or changing the acidity allows nature to take over and the naturally occurring organisms will be stimulated and start to degrade the contaminants of concern.”

Researchers pioneered “green remediation” in the 1990s to remove pollution from groundwater. The technique proved to be effective at destroying a range of chlorinated solvents.

“Bioremediation works well for many pollutants. Microbes will degrade chlorinated hydrocarbons from dry cleaning solvents, degreasers, gasoline and diesel products,” she said.

“We don’t know if there are any bacteria or fungi that will work with PFAS. I’d be surprised if we can’t find something that will biograde these compounds. But at the moment we don’t know the organisms or the pathways.”

The biennial CleanUp Conference runs from 10–14 September 2017 at the Crown Melbourne.

The conference program is available at www.cleanupconference.com/program.